Cornell University

April 19 2010

Service, Every Day

Seth "Yossi" Siegel '74 receiving Alpern Award

For every 50 minutes Seth Siegel studied in Olin Library, he gave himself the gift of 10 minutes of reading randomness.

The practice of grabbing whichever book looked interesting from wherever he happened to sit, he said, "gave me the opportunity to see many parts of the real world."

Decades of success in the business world followed.

Movies, motorcycles, toys, fashion and beyond – Siegel's diversified career included serving as the licensing agent for many of the world's top brands.

On Tuesday, Siegel receives the Alpern Award from ILR, which also played randomly into his life.

"I'm an accidental ILRie," he said in an interview last week.

His mother suggested he apply to the "International and Labor Relations School." She learned about the school when Seth's sister was visited by a friend who attended Cornell.

Seth Siegel had never heard of Cornell, much less ILR.

A school with "International" and "Relations" in the name, though, "made it irresistible," he said.

The school catalogue tipped him off. "International," Siegel learned, was actually "Industrial."

He remembers thinking, "Omigawd. What am I going to do now?" "Remarkable" people at ILR helped show the way, Siegel said.

Professor Milton Konvitz: "Here I was, a simple kid from a kind of blue collar neighborhood in Queens. It was in his class that I realized how exciting the world of ideas is … I realized I loved learning."

Professor John Windmuller: A "fabulous" teacher. "Magical for me … he encouraged me to do all kinds of research on European labor radicalism."

Professor George Brooks: "He had been a labor organizer … a war stories kind of guy" who explained how large organizations "default away from democracy and towards mediocrity" and who drove a quest for professional integrity.

Professor David Lipsky: "He taught me how primary research was done while becoming a friend and mentor."

In 2006, Siegel stepped down as co-chairman of The Beanstalk Group to become its vice chairman.

Now, he has more flexibility to dedicate himself to a vow he made while in his twenties: "I decided then I would try every day to do some organizational service, and I largely did so, but with stepping down from day-to-day work duties, I could ramp up my time working as a volunteer."

Community service has spanned a philanthropic breadth as varied as Siegel's professional career.

Cornell University Hillel, the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for sick children, the ILR Advisory Council, public elementary school reading projects, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and many other organizations have benefitted from Siegel’s volunteerism.

ILR fed his interest in doing for others.

"ILR, in part, is an opportunity to put into action the idea of service and academic thought," he said.

After graduating from ILR and before entering Cornell Law School, Siegel studied for a year in Israel, where he picked up the nickname "Yossi."

He is a lifelong collector of quotations, and many of them relate to the value of public service.

A favorite of Siegel's is one he read while at Cornell from the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame University: "Happiness can only come from giving at least a corner of yourself to others."